Because, apparently, you spend ten years of your life doing something and you get a degree in the stuff and people actually expect you to know what you’re doing.
People and their unrealistic expectations.
Amirite?I don’t usually write much about teaching on my blog.
Because it’s my job. And I like to keep my work life and my private life separate. (And by “private life” I mean “totally-not-private-Internet-life.”)
Plus, honestly, it kind of freaks me out – giving advice that people might actually take seriously.
And now that I just wrote that sentence, I’ve figured out the ultimate way to deal with annoying people while traveling: BRING UNICORNS.
They will totally cancel out the annoying people.
Where were we again?
Oh, yes, teaching English.
Usually when I get a question about teaching, I just point the person to this post I wrote about a year and a half ago about questions you should ask yourself before becoming an ESL teacher overseas.
But people still keep on asking me questions.
Because, apparently, you guys don’t like talking to yourselves much.
So because the people keep on asking, I’ve decided to give the people what they want.
Just as long as next week I can go back to talking about unicorns, okay?
8 Questions You Keep Asking Me About Teaching ESL Overseas Because, Apparently, You Guys Don’t Like Asking Yourselves Questions
1. Do I need a degree?Bad news (if you don’t already happen to have a degree):
Yes, most likely.
In fact, most jobs will require that you show proof of a four-year-degree before they will hire you.
This is usually due to visa restrictions as many countries, like Japan and South Korea, require that you have a degree before you can be granted a working visa.
Good news (if you happen to have a degree and it happens to be in Astrophysical International Communicationology):
It usually doesn’t matter what your degree is in – especially if you’re looking at jobs teaching at a private language school or a local K-12 school overseas.
Even better news (if you happened to have majored in English like I did):
This may be the only job where having an English degree will actually work in your favor.
I know, right?
It doesn’t even matter if you spent your four years in college pretending to read James Joyce novels and writing crappy poetry.
Not that I did that.
Okay, I totally did that.
2. Do I need teaching experience?Good news (if you don’t happen to have any teaching experience):
Of course, it will totally depend on the school or program you’re applying to and the country it is in.
My first job teaching English was at a high school in tiny fishing village in Japan with the JET Programme, a program that primarily recruits newly graduated university students.
Other than a brief stint as a TA in a college writing class, I didn’t have any teaching experience. I definitely didn’t have any experience with high school students. And I had absolutely no idea how to teach grammar or sentence structure. Because, frankly, I didn’t even know sentences had structure.
Of course, it will help if you do happen to have some teaching or training experience – even if it’s non-ESL related stuff.
Maybe you worked as a volunteer camp counselor?
Or helped train other waitresses at your summer restaurant job?
Or are just really good at being bossy?
Brag about it on your resume, yo.
There really is no bad news.
Geez, you guys, why do you always think there’s going to be bad news?
3. What about that TEFL Certificate thingie? What is it? Do I need one of those? How do I get it? And what’s the best one to get?I’m really not the best person to ask about TEFL certificates because I never got one.
I went straight from Teaching-Without-Any-Certification-Or-Training-Or-Idea-As-To-What-I-Was-Doing to Getting-My-Master’s-Degree-in-TESOL-And-Learning-To-Diagram-Sentences-Like-A-Boss.
Because my philosophy in life is “All or Nothing.”
This also happens to be my philosophy in nachos.Of course, any kind of training is going to help you both find a job and be prepared to enter the classroom, but the problem is deciding which certification program to do.
There are, like, eleventy-billion-million different types of certificates and certification programs out there. There are programs that can be done completely online. Whereas other programs require a certain number of hours of in-class practice teaching. Some programs may even help you find a job after you finish the certification.
I’d suggest looking at some listings for jobs in the country that you’re interested in. (ESL Café is a good place to start.) That will give you a good idea as to what the general requirements for jobs in that country are.
Which brings me to the next question:
4. Where should I go?SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS, WITH THE QUESTIONS?
Must I decide EVERYTHING for you?
I mean, SHEEZ.
How about I ask you a question this time?
Where do you want to go?
Okay, you should totally go there.
Yep, that’s all there is to it.
5. Should I line up a job before I go or just go there on a tourist visa and look for a job when I get there?Not to get all government official on you, but it is technically illegal to look for a job or work while on a tourist visa.
Not that I haven’t met plenty of people who’ve done it.
But I, personally, would rather secure a job beforehand and get the appropriate visa before going overseas to teach. Because I’m a scaredy cat, and I don’t like to break the law, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t last long in prison. (Although, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, prison would make for a totally awesome blog post.)
Arranging everything beforehand can mean a lot of hassle and paperwork and planning.
This can also mean committing yourself to a school in a less-than-glamorous location
Like, say, a tiny fishing village in Japan.
Or, say, the Brazilian Amazon.
Or, umm, perhaps, a city of four million people in China that nobody’s ever heard of.
But it also means that you already have a place to stay and a place to work when you get there — and that place doesn’t happen to be a prison.
Win, win, you guys!
6. How do I avoid being scammed?I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories.
I’ve certainly heard the horror stories.
You know, the ones of the innocent, naïve, ESL-teacher-wannabe who gets a job overseas and then shows up in her destination of choice only to find she’s been sold into a prostitution ring and her passport is taken away and then she wakes up in a bathtub of ice with her kidneys stolen and there’s a convict on the loose with a hook for a hand and, OMIGOD, THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE.
Despite having heard these stories over and over again, I have never actually met anyone who has been scammed – at least not seriously so.
This is not to say that scams don’t exist.This is also not to say that you shouldn’t be really careful when applying for and accepting jobs.
Do your research.
Ask people you know who’ve taught ESL overseas what schools or programs they’d recommend.
Talk to the career counselors at your university or your college professors. (True story: The main reason why I applied to the JET Programme was because it was recommended to me by my sociology professor in college.)
Check out the online forums and see what people have to say about the schools or programs you’re applying to. But be warned – the online forums for teaching ESL are like all online forums everywhere on the Internet ever – basically, full of negative, hateful trolls who probably stomp on puppies in their spare time. But if one school in particular keeps on warranting the vitriol of the Internets, I’d stay away.
Ask the school or program you’re applying to if you can talk to any current or former teachers either via email or Skype. If they won’t let you talk to anybody, then I’d be concerned.
And trust your gut.Basically, if a company feels totally sketchy, chances are they are totally sketchy.
The company I applied to work for in Brazil felt totally sketchy.
The Brazilian Embassy wasn’t even sure if they would give me a visa because they were all like, “This place seems totally sketchy.”
But I still went there.
Because BRAZIL, YOU GUYS.
Not surprisingly, when I got there, I discovered the place I worked for was totally sketchy. They were disorganized and gave me absolutely no support. They made me work more hours than the local teachers and paid me less. And they took away the only vacation I had to make me go substitute teach in the jungle for two weeks.
While I was happy I went, I still spent the better part of the year feeling frustrated and helpless.
Luckily, though, nothing horrible happened to me to me.
I didn’t get sold into prostitution or have my passport taken away.
And I was able to leave the country with both of my kidneys.
Or at least I think I still have both of my kidneys.
Is there some kind of test I can do to make sure I still have both of my kidneys, you guys?
7. What if I don’t like it?I left my first job teaching English in Japan after only a year, and I didn’t think I’d ever go back to teaching ESL again.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t liked the teaching.
I had actually really enjoyed the teaching.
But I didn’t do nearly as much teaching as I would have liked as my classes were often cancelled because they weren’t considered “important.”
So instead of teaching, I spent most of my time sitting at my desk, pretending to do work while I was actually ordering stuff off of Amazon and writing ranty emails to my friends.
It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I got a job teaching English part-time to adult students at a private language school in the States, that I really fell in love with teaching and started to consider teaching as a career and not-this-thing-to-do-for-a-year-so-I-can-get-a-visa-to-live-in-a-country-and-not-get-arrested.Here’s the thing: teaching is like pretty much every experience in your life ever.
You’re never going to know if you like it until you try it.
And even if you try it once, you might not even be sure if you like it.
If you’re interested in teaching ESL and think you might like it, you might as well try it.
Because, seriously, what’s the worst that could happen?
Besides having your kidneys stolen.
Just kidding, you guys!
Your kidneys will totally not get stolen.
8. How do I get a real job after teaching ESL?This question irks me more than just a little bit.
Because, you guys, teaching English is a “real job.”
You use the exact same skills teaching English as you do with any job – teaching or non-teaching.
You have to be creative but practical.
You have to be able to plan ahead but be flexible.
You have to be able to be confident. But you also have to be able to be humble and take a lot of criticism.
You have to be able to talk to a variety of different people from a variety of different backgrounds. But you also have to be able to listen to people. And not roll your eyes too much when those people won’t shut up already.
And you have to wear pants.Mind you, I didn’t always feel this way about teaching English.
During my first year of teaching English, I didn’t consider what I was doing a “real job”.
I spent a lot of time during that year in Japan thinking about the “real job” I would get when I returned to the States.
And when I returned to the States, I promptly got myself a real job – working in a non-profit in Washington, DC – doing lots of real jobby things.
Like, you know, sitting at my desk, pretending to do work while I was actually ordering stuff off of Amazon and writing ranty emails to my friends.
Okay, so I did actually do a lot of work.But, here’s the thing, you guys, about jobs (and take this from a girl who has had a lot of jobs in her day):
A job is a job is a job.
You’re going to do some stuff that you really like – like work with some awesome people and do some creative things and maybe occasionally dance.
And you’re going to do some stuff that you don’t like – like sit through really long staff meetings and wear pants.
And some days it’s going to be The Most Awesome Job Ever And You Want To Do It Forever And Ever Until You Die.
And some days it’s going to be The Worst Job Ever And You Want To Quit And Go Live on a Beach And Drink Mai-Tais For A Living And Never Wear Pants Again.
That’s all there really is to it.
Okay, can I go back to talking about unicorns now?Have you ever taught ESL? Have any tips you’d like to share? Or are you thinking about teaching ESL? Have any questions you’d like to ask?